Ever since I discovered it last year, Cowpunk has fascinated me. The marriage of country, folk, and punk is an odd one to be sure, but it is a marriage that creates an endless possibility of song combinations sure to please many ears. Diverse sound is the strength of the subgenre, but it is a double-edged sword, as its weakness is a lack of consistency. With all of the combinations available, an artist can get lost in the possibilities and end up trying to do too much and try to sound like too many different iterations of the same thing.
The Habit seems to fall into the same trap with their release of Lincoln Has Won. The album bursts out of the gate at a torrid pace with the infectious and rollicking folk track “War is Done.” The opener makes me want to stomp on the floor and drink ale with Civil War reenactors. Siobhan Glennon’s vocals capture everything sweet and genuine about country without any of the eye-rolling commercialism that infects contemporary artists. The pacing stays consistent as the tracks move into “Ballad Of” and “Not Brooklyn,” the latter marking the apex of the album. The track starts out with a slow burn of Eli Thomas’ rolling bass line and James Pelletier’s thumping bass drum before steadily building into a crescendo of Who-esque grandeur of crashing cymbals and Will Croxton and Brian Mendes’ clashing guitars. The entire time, Glennon’s vocals ride guarded emotion blended with poetry.
After that, Lincoln Has Won falls into the traps that beguile alt-country, cowpunk, jugpunk, whatever you want to call it. The genre is so expansive that touching all the differences within it can create a lack of cohesive sound. The Habit tries to wear too many hats in one album and tries experimenting with too many different sounds. This is not to say that the band creates terrible songs; each track is great in its own right, save for the jarring wailing male vocals about the ocular plight of dead man in “Pennies for Eyes” It’s just that thematically, the twelve tracks don’t jell.
With an album name like Lincoln Has Won, and an opening track called “War Is Done,” one would expect a concept album about the end of the Civil War. This is not the case, and the listener is given varying themes in a forty-two minute bar band jam session. This is The Habit’s ultimate strength; the immense energy and infectiousAmericana sound pulses with every note and drum beat. Each song, from the grungy country twang and fuzzy guitars of “Blood on the Saddle,” to the chop-chop of folksy acoustic guitar and brushes on snares of “Tears Are Yonder,” would leave a concertgoer gasping for breath and begging for more. But digesting the album in one sitting, the variation feels disparate.
The members of The Habit execute the myriad of genres they try to cross with their music masterfully and almost all of their tracks are catchy and toe-tapping missives. However, the sum of Lincoln Has Won is not equal to its parts. The flow never seems right and creates a disjointed listening experience, but one that piques my curiosity of the tour de force I imagine one of their live shows is like. That is one of the endearing qualities of cowpunk and The Habit: you can’t always see the forest for the trees, but there is a beauty to each one.